Dr. Henry Carter, a disillusioned celebrity psychiatrist in Los Angelos who’s wife recently died, is lost in a downward metaphysical spiral — and smoking boatloads of marijuana. Waitaminute, this almost sounds like the recipe for a Seth Rogan flick, but it’s instead quite a somber film from up-and-coming director Jonas Pate with the cross-story feel reminiscent of Crash. The stories of Carter’s patients, Jack, Shamus, Patrick, Kate and Jemma, intertwine as they all cross paths at the shrink’s office. The correlation I see to Crash is the moral dilemmas they are faced with, inherent of the theme.
Steven Holden of the NY Times calls it “a contemporary Play It As It Lays”, a 1972 movie about a Hollywood actress who undergoes psychiatry at a sanitarium, searching for meaning in her life only to find that it’s up to her to make it. While there’s overtones of the 1972 film in that it speaks about the stresses of not only the south Californian celebrity and community’s lifestyle, I find the Crash comparison much closer for the simple fact that Play It As It Lays is much more focused on one person. More like Crash, Shrink moves between the problems of several people, but it isn’t as culture-based and is more generational such as mid-life crisis and relationship fidelity as well as teenage rebellion and disenchantment. Unfortunuately it doesn’t have a solid theme for them all which proves how Crash’s racism theme won it an academy award. The struggles that people encounter on the road to success and stardom outline Shrink’s plot and make it a sort of “awe, poor hollywood people” type thing instead of anything that the rest of the country can relate to.
While all the stories have their own intriguing plotlines, the main chronicle of Henry Carter is the most fulfilling. At this point, we all know Kevin Spacey can act, but he once again manages to really pull in the viewer to his painful world as he portrays someone battling his demons in an escapism to an rather unlikely drug addiction, marijuana. It’s actually humorous to find those scenes of seeking counsel from his dealer, the guy who’s not his friend but whom Henry tries to treat as one, an all-too-familiar scene from any pot-smoker’s life.
There are some writer tricks that make me gag toward the end, including the mis-direction trick (without giving it away, here’s an example: “I’m sorry to inform you but your husband isn’t ok..[insert gasp from would-be widow]… in fact HE’S GREAT!”) and that particular one happens literally 3 times in a row, scene after scene right until the end where everything ends hunky-doory. I realize that it’s Hollywood, despite being an independent film, and that as producers of the film they need to think of a way to make money to justify their expense in making the movie. But I’ll never accept quickly typing up a movie’s plots with “everything always works out in the end” type of fantasies as “good art”. A good film is something like As Good As It Gets, where there’s multiple plot lines that are intertwined but the focus never direly leaves the protagonist as it did in Shrink, and in the end, it may have been happy for Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt’s characters to go for that walk, but it was only a walk — the emphasis was not on them suddenly becoming girlfriend and boyfriend but on them getting over themselves and spending quality time together. The result of that early morning stroll to the bakery wasn’t getting married, getting that great job promotion, overcoming a fear of heights or anything. It left a lot up to the imagination and THAT’s why it was a happy ending.
Shrink, on the other hand, seemed like it was desperate for a happy ending and it actually made me bummed out to watch. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s as if I was lured into watching what I thought would be a great book only to find out it was only ok. And as Dr. Henry Carter says on national television as he gets closer and closer to a complete breakdown in his life, I would say the line Don’t Buy This Book more or less sums up my feelings.
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